Whatever is wrong with the front end of my 06 Mazda3 nearly has me at the end of my rope. Nothing seems to solve the problem; rather it seems to be getting progressively worse.

Recap.

The steering wheel in my car shakes, there’s an intrusive noise coming from the front end, all of my mirrors vibrate, and all of these things keep rhythm with one another and increase with speed. It’s worst above 70 mph.

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In an attempt to remedy this, I’ve replaced the wheels and tires, sway bar end links, front lower control arms and half-axles, and wheel hubs and bearings. And all three engine mounts are new within the last 18 months and have been adjusted according to Mazda’s engine mount TSB.

Out of all of that, only the bearings/hubs and accompanying alignment seemed to help. But within the next 500 miles, everything deteriorated back to where it had been before I took it in.

(Because somebody is inevitably going to say, “Get your wheels balanced, buy some hub-centric rings, and torque everything down to the service manual specs”: My new Enkei wheels were re-balanced by a reputable shop two weeks ago, they have hub-centric rings installed, and the lugs are all torqued to the factory spec courtesy of my Tekton torque wrench. The problem was the same with my other two sets of wheels and tires installed. Wheels and/or tires are not the issue here.) 

Throwing parts at it.

After asking for help last time, I ordered a bunch of parts and threw them at the problem. I installed the sway bar end links, control arms, and half-axles myself, which did nothing to solve the problem. Then I took it to a shop to have them replace the tie rods and wheel bearings as those were a little beyond me.

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They called me back after inspecting the car and told me that the problem I described was definitely there, but that they couldn’t figure out what in the front end was causing it as everything seemed solid. They told me they didn’t expect the any of the parts I brought them to help, but that they would install them anyway if I wanted them to. I decided to have them do just the bearings as those seemed the most likely to me and gave them permission to do the work.

Is it fixed?

They installed the new hubs/bearings, did an alignment, and called me back telling me they couldn’t figure why, but it seemed to have worked. The car was significantly improved. At 75-80 mph the noise was gone and the steering wheel vibration was minimal and in general the the front end just felt more solid and composed. It definitely wasn’t perfect, but after commuting for a week, I convinced myself I was being obsessive and decided I could live with it.

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Excited that my car was finally fixed, I bought and installed a clean junkyard hood and bumper cover to replaced the damaged ones and even ordered a Bilstein strut in preparation for some modifications (it was half price, I’m still waiting for deals on the other three).

When I had the front end of the car up in the air to replace the body panels, I noticed a clacking noise when I tossed the wheel back and forth. I was puzzled by this, but had limited time to get the new hood on, so I didn’t dwell on it. It stuck around in the back of my head though.

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No, it’s not fixed.

Then Labor Day weekend I went to visit family and put 400 miles on my car. That included a two-hour freeway stint to get where I was going, a long weekend doing a mix of freeway and city driving, and another two-hour freeway stint to get back home.

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Heading out of town at the beginning of the weekend was my first chance to experience the car in the old problem spot of 70-80 mph for an extended length of time. Initially I was relieved by how much quieter the car was. I could cruise at 75-80 mph and not have to crank the music up to hear it. The steering wheel wasn’t vibration free, but it wasn’t uncomfortable.

By the time I arrived at my destination, I was frustrated. The problem wasn’t back full force, but things seemed to be getting louder and I had noticed my mirrors vibrating again. I thought back to the clacking noise from earlier in the week and decided to run it by my grandpa the next morning.

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When I asked him about it the next day, his first thought was CV joint. That triggered my memory and I realized that when I had replaced my half-axles, there was lateral play in the joint shaft. Even with the passenger-side axle in place, I could rock the shaft back and forth in the bracket.

Assembly number two, which Mazda only offers as an assembly unless you know to look for the part numbers on an 07+ Mazda5.

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The thing is, if the joint shaft bearing is the issue, I don’t understand how replacing the wheel bearings would mitigate the symptoms or why they would return so rapidly. So I chewed on that for the weekend as the car continued to deteriorate every time I drove it.

By the time I got home from the trip, my hands were achy and buzzing like I’d been using a gas-powered weed wacker for two hours. On top of that the front end of the car had begun to feel unsettled and that noise, whatever it is, was back. My car was officially not fixed.

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On top of all that, I’m pretty sure my front struts are on their way out. Things were getting a little floaty on the freeway last weekend.

I’m sick of this.

I spent the last week commuting in it every day. It rained one day and the front end of the car was downright skittish, even when the pavement was only damp. It even felt jittery in a straight line. It’s not as bad when it’s dry, but something doesn’t feel right up front even at 35 mph.

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The difference from before all of this is that it’s consistent and constant now. I can feel the vibration from launch all the way up to highway speeds. It doesn’t disappear from time to time or randomly get better or worse. It’s just a constant vibration that gets faster and louder the faster the car moves.

Can anyone help?

I don’t want to get rid of this car. The original intention was for it to be disposable, but it’s won me over with its handling and styling and practicality. If I could just solve this problem I’d happily drive it until it succumbs to the inevitable Mazda Rust®. (On top of that, I owe approximately market-value on the thing, so I’m not really in a position to get rid of it right now, and I just dumped a stupid amount of money into trying to fix it.)

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But I’m at my whit’s end right now. I don’t know what to do and I’m sick of throwing parts at this problem.

TLDR

Threw a bunch of parts at my car and it didn’t fix the problem. I thought new wheel bearings and an alignment had, but the issue quickly resurfaced. What should I do, OPPO?

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(Sorry I wrote you a novel.)